2016: A Look Back In Horror – The Worst In Wrestling

A staggering and inordinate amount of deaths among talented, beloved celebrities and entertainers. A hideously ugly election cycle that only seemed to magnify the worst in everyone. The continued existence of Chrisley Knows Best, despite nobody knowing (or willing to admit knowing) a single person that watches that show for non-ironic reasons. The year 2016 has not been a pretty one, to say the very least.

In professional wrestling, it’s not much different. Things were pretty damn bad on a number of fronts in the sports entertainment medium we all hold dear, and for some, it’s as wretched as its ever been. I wouldn’t quite go that far, actually: there’s plenty to enjoy if you open your eyes and crane your neck around.

Among the goodness in wrestling this year, SmackDown upgraded itself into must-see episodic television, thanks to simple week-to-week storytelling and the presence of the impeccable Mauro Ranallo on commentary. The Royal Rumble was actually pretty good for once, even in spite of Triple H winning the WWE Championship. NXT continues to be a haven for top-notch wrestlers from around the globe, and the success of the brand spun-off another brilliant creation for international and indy talents to thrive in: the Cruiserweight Classic. Matt Hardy’s psychosis (the mental disorder, not the luchador) manifested itself in ways nobody else could have ever dreamt up. The Miz underwent a renaissance, on account of impassioned promos and some of the best in-ring work of his career. The Revival, well, revived the art of classic tag team wrestling, and even won the admiration of lovable curmudgeon Jim Cornette. Hulk Hogan dropped the big leg (not a euphemism) on the parasites at Gawker. The author of this article managed to co-write a book on 1997-98 WWE, vanquishing the laziness that has been his consistent nemesis for 33 years.

The following list will cover none of those topics. Least of all, the book. I’m nothing, if not virulently biased.

Instead, I aim to present the absolute worst of 2016 in one convenient package. The worst matches, moments, ideas, gimmicks, and storylines are ranked subjectively, all one man’s opinion. There will no doubt be disagreements with the list (and the order) as I have compiled it. That’s to be expected. Just keep in mind that it is one man’s opinion, although I’m always up for playful debate and discussion. Playful is fun. JBL will even declare that we’re having fun in there with our discussion. Everyone loves when JBL spouts company-approved cliches.

Each year, I look back at the list I put together 365 days or so earlier, just to see if there were any entries I jumped to gun on, and would have been better off leaving out. With the 2013 and 2014 lists, I found a handful in each that made me say, “Yeah, I suppose…”, but for the 2015 list, I stand by all 50 entries. The only one with even a fraction of remorse from me is number 19, R-Truth’s ongoing stupidity. And that’s only because his 2016 Royal Rumble spot, in which he slid a ladder into the ring and tried to climb for the non-existent Money in the Bank briefcase, made me laugh until it hurt. I admit to being a simple man.

That being said, something tells me I’ll be standing just as firmly by the 2016 list as well, with or without a cute Royal Rumble moment taking the starch out of a sole entry.

And yes, consider this a precursor to the 2016 Gooker Award voting, which will take place in just a couple of weeks. You won’t have 50 entries to choose from there, only 10, so consider this the super-sized version with a Grotesque Gulp so enormous it won’t fit into your car’s drink holder, no matter how hard you try to jam it in there.

Any criticism or comments or whatnot, feel free to comment below, or Tweet at me. I’m perfectly capable of arguing in either forum.

Away we go.

50. TNA’s stormy night

A good number of TNA’s woes are self-inflicted, but inclement weather is something beyond their control. The June 14 edition of Impact ended up being delayed for nearly two hours after a thunderstorm played havoc with the Pop TV transmitters in Atlanta. In the place of wrestling, the same commercials aired on loop for almost the duration of Impact’s intended time slot.

49. Not a good sign, not a bad sign…

The near-unabated uber-push of “The Guy” continues to irk many viewers, though the lengths that WWE has gone to try and protect Reigns’ image have proven comical. Like the fan’s sign at WWE Payback that read, “WHEN IT REIGNS, IT BORES”. A WWE.com photo scrubbed out the final two words, turning negativity into a weird half-a-sentence. WHEN IT REIGNS….okay, then what?

48. TNA’s Twitter hates your guts

TNA’s lead announcer Josh Mathews (he of the lowered-pitch voice thanks to the wonders of post-production) is reportedly in charge of the promotion’s Twitter. The same Twitter that hits back angrily at benign fan criticisms (clearer image here). Mathews has had Twitter run-ins in the past, most caustically with former TNAer TJ Perkins, so perhaps control over social media should be delegated more thoughtfully.

47. Make Darren Young Great Again

While it’s great to see Bob Backlund get dusted off for another goofy run, his pairing with career midcarder Darren Young really went nowhere. Things looked semi-amusing at first when an out-of-touch Backlund and his archaic coaching methods failed to jive with his millennial protege. After a brief feud with The Miz, Young became a non-factor before the end of summer, wasting Backlund’s unconventional brilliance.

46. Edge, Christian, New Day, League of Nations segment

In theory, matching the irreverent wits of Edge and Christian and The New Day should have made for some entertaining television. At Fastlane, the two sides traded underwhelming barbs before being interrupted by the ice-cold League of Nations, who are left standing there after more lame insults. Unless you think, “International House of Dumbasses,” is a seminal bon mot worthy of Roast Battle.

45. Impact Grand Championship

TNA has notoriously been averse to keeping their concepts simple (Hard 10 Challenge, Doomsday Chamber of Blood, Fight for Your Right battle royal). While a ’rounds’ system isn’t so convoluted (classic World of Sport wrestling thrived on such rules), the concept feels out of place in TNA, where outlandish gimmickry and mayhem have been more predominant in 2016.

44. TNA loses out on The Club, then complains

In late 2015, TNA had apparently struck a deal to not only bring back AJ Styles, but also sign his Bullet Club allies Doc (Luke) Gallows and Karl Anderson. The three obviously signed with WWE instead. For their part, TNA sent out a scornful press release scolding Styles, even though they were the ones that made plans for the three without any dotted lines signed.

43. Obey the Jumbotron

Even though the announcers laugh off “Bizarro World” crowds that chant against the WWE narrative, the company would rather exercise some Jesse the Body-esque mind control on its Universe. That’s why at WrestleMania 32, the Jerryworld big screen ‘encouraged’ specific crowd chants, like “Woo” for Charlotte, “New Day Rocks”, and counting Brock Lesnar’s suplexes in sequence. Amazingly, there was no “Yay” prodding for Roman Reigns in the main event.

42. Wyatt Compound Match

Granted, TNA and WWE have ripped each other off enough over the years, but this one felt especially hokey. After “Final Deletion” became an ironic absurdist hit, WWE immediately threw together a holy war between The Wyatt Family and The New Day on brother Bray’s turf. Coincidence? If anything, it could be argued that WWE brought more attention to Matt Hardy’s captivating dementia than they did their own storylines.

41. Montreal Part VIII: Hebner Takes Manhattan

Bret Hart possesses little filter when it comes to levying criticisms against WWE. “The Hitman” (fresh off both wrist surgery and prostate cancer surgery) made no bones about his lack of desire for appearing at WWE Payback in May, claiming he was only doing so in support of his niece, Natalya. The same Natalya that lost via a Sharpshooter screwjob to Charlotte, while Hart watched on with disinterest.

40. The Shining Stars

It’s hard to tell if portraying evil travel agents is a step up or down from playing bullfighters (from Puerto Rico). Primo and Epico wasted the spring starring in endless vignettes in which they advocated for their home island, and talked botany, which I suppose makes them heels. Then they really showed their nefarious side by tricking R-Truth into trading he and Goldust’s spot at Survivor Series for a timeshare! Those cads!

39. Goldust and R-Truth’s “comedy”

There’s comedy, there’s high comedy, and then there’s comedy so forced that it’s pushed through our television screens with a plunger for good measure. Goldust and R-Truth are each in their physical twilight and are fine as comic relief, but bad segments like Goldust as an awkward waiter and R-Truth as an apologetic pizza boy only further beg the question, “Why is Raw three hours?”

38. “Take two!”

Despite being a skillful, eagerly-determined wrestler, it’s not exactly Bayley’s nature to demonstrate such voraciousness verbally. That’s why her doe-eyed timidness doesn’t lend itself to the most compelling promos, as proven on the post-Hell in a Cell airing of Raw Talk, in which Bayley sheepishly shambled through a promo, and Booker T and Lita aggressively roasted her for it. When Lita thinks your talking needs work…

37. “Good Lucha thing”

Bayley was reciting Dusty Rhodes’ “Hard Times” sermon with gusto compared to Kalisto’s pink nightmare of a promo. After being drafted to SmackDown Live, Kalisto’s interview stumbled out of the blocks before he delivered the immortal phrase, “Good…Lucha…thing”, and ran off set while grunting “Goddamnit!” To begin, Kalisto uttered the words “shock the world”, which was also prelude to another moment of masked wrestler infamy.

36. A Cruiserweight division, modern WWE style

Remember the days of Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, and Chris Jericho occupying time on WCW Nitro with their world-class athletics and acrobatics? It’s not exactly the same in today’s WWE, where the revived Cruiserweight division does boast many legitimate talents, only shoe-horned into slower WWE-style matches and “branding” with special purple-colored ropes. Only WWE could render dynamic international and indy talents dull.

35. New RAW logo

The 10,000th person that pointed out that the W looks like an upside-down M, and that the new Raw logo was ripped off of the Dodge Ram logo, won two tickets for the endless TV taping of their choosing. Maybe the emblem is a tribute to the minimalist works of Sol LeWitt, only without the courtesy of engaging the viewer through additional dimension.

34. Breezango’s Sunburn match

Speaking of wacky Golden Truth antics, how’s about the time those hooligans locked Fandango and Tyler Breeze in a tanning booth, and the brilliantly-named “Breezango” appeared six days later covered in hi-larious seventh degree burns? Quite a lot of elaborate plaster and make-up for a throwaway pre-show match, especially since most fans in the building didn’t understand what the gag was supposed to be.

33. Dana Brooke

Dave Meltzer’s periodically noted that WWE views Dana as “the female Roman Reigns”. Well, they were kinda right – crowds don’t seem to care for the extremely green, brought-up-too-soon female grappler that would go on to have transparently bad matches on TV, one particularly memorable one with Bayley. The dead silence at Extreme Rules when Dana made a grand entrance dressed as Ric Flair was a bad sign.

32. Joan Lunden for Warrior Award

All the praise in the world to the veteran journalist for conquering breast cancer, but we all know that’s not the issue here. Annoyed wrestling fans will once again note that The Warrior Award was twisted and mangled from Warrior’s original idea to honor unsung backstage contributors. Of course, one guess which path will provide WWE with more (hollow) publicity.

31. Orton: “no enhancement needed”

When CM Punk mocked Jeff Hardy for his poor choices in life, it made sense, given Punk’s straight-edge adherence. In this case, the irony was blindingly clear. Orton mocked opponent Brock Lesnar’s USADA drug fail by claiming that he didn’t need chemical help to be as great as he is. Of course, two failed drug tests and selective immunity in the 2007 Signature Pharmacy scandal say hi.

30. The fallout over Joey Styles’ comment

Styles gets fired by EVOLVE (and a few other peer organizations) for making an edgy joke that veered into territory that Gabe Sapolsky asked him not to tread upon. The outrage and aftermath prove to be far more over the top than is really necessary. Jim Cornette said it far better than I ever could, so if you have 20 minutes, let the Louisville Lip break it down for you.

29. Frequent Women’s title changes

The Raw Women’s Championship has changed with such frequency in the latter half of 2016 that you’d think there was a 24/7 rule in place. At this point, I’d expect to see Pete Gas wallop Charlotte with a trash can outside of a laundromat and pin her. Big E even joked about the “hot potato” (to reportedly some backstage heat) in a throwaway line on a recent Raw.

28. Mick Foley as Raw‘s General Manager

It’s almost incomprehensible that the great Mick Foley could become such a liability on the mic, akin to watching Ali suck wind against Trevor Berbick in 1981. As Raw‘s GM, Foley lacks the charming dorkiness of his previous runs, and instead rambles aimlessly and uncomfortably (when he’s not shouting randomly). Even if he’s being held to a strict script, it’s still clear Foley’s lost his touch.

27. Coach’s “defense” of WWE over concussions

Ever since WWE buddied up to ESPN in 2015, current ESPN anchor Jonathan Coachman has enjoyed a renewed marriage with his ex-employer. That’s why he passionately defended WWE against the class action concussion lawsuit filed this past summer. In the midst of his defense, Coach admitted he suffered probably something like 10 or 20 concussions in a five year stretch, and never had all of them evaluated. Oops.

26. Enzo attends sensitivity training

The Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management sessions were to Enzo Amore’s forced sensitivity training what Revenge of the Nerds was to Nerds in Paradise: the former was a comedic sleeper hit, while the latter was a humorless attempt at co-opting the surprisingly-effective formula. Enzo is a unique comic presence, and understandably, his voice is stifled by constrictive setpieces where he can’t feed off of the crowd.

25. Vince suspends Titus O’Neil

Daniel Bryan’s emotional retirement speech came equipped with a bizarre occurrence, that being Vince McMahon flipping out on Titus for ‘playfully’ grabbing his arm as the listening throng went to leave the ramp. An irate McMahon suspended Titus for sixty days, reportedly costing him his WrestleMania bonus. Dave “No Frigs Given” Batista, a friend of O’Neil’s, publicly chastised McMahon, and said O’Neil should’ve just quit the company.

24. WWE releases Damien Sandow

One of those cases where, “Creative has nothing, even if the fans do.” Sandow turned heads with his droll portrayal of The Miz’s muted sidekick, and the budding face turn excited many viewers. Then Sandow was briskly swept under the rug with Zack Ryder and other contradictions of creative. Fitting that Sandow’s last WWE hurrah was a warm response in the otherwise-heatless Andre the Giant battle royal at WrestleMania 32.

23. David Otunga as an announcer

WWE insists on three-man commentary booths like Tommy Wiseau insists on having a cup of hot water handy: nobody’s exactly sure why. This list trashed Byron Saxton a year ago, but Otunga makes Saxton look like John Facenda by comparison, offering empty platitudes and duh-duh statements similar to a pull-string doll that spits out elementary buzzphrases. Can’t SmackDown just roll with JBL and Mauro?

22. HHH helps Kevin Owens then vanishes

With Raw‘s ratings floundering the past few seasons, it almost seems as though WWE holds back in the fall, not wanting their big guns to get pummeled by Monday Night Football. It’d explain why Triple H cost Seth Rollins the WWE Universal title on August 29, and then disappeared for the entire autumn season, most likely to return come January, so the COO can look like a massive ratings draw.

21. Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose

One of the lowlights of WrestleMania 32 (more on that show later) was the disappointing brawl between Lesnar and Ambrose. In what amounted to barely more than an extended squash match, Lesnar controlled 85 percent of the skirmish, finishing Ambrose clean with an F5 onto a pile of chairs. Ambrose would later claim that Lesnar was lazy, and didn’t want to do anything out of his comfort zone in the match.

20. The New Day vs. The Club

While the wacky and energetic New Day can make even the most inane of dialogue work to some degree, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson understandably struggle trying to match the trio’s silliness. Instead of getting to be the ruthless ass-kickers the two played in Bullet Club, Anderson and Gallows were caught up diagnosing “ringpostitis” and fighting off Jon Stewart like, as Bryan Alvarez would rasp, “a couple of geeks.”

19. Susan G Komen

Bears residual mention on an annual basis. Stephanie McMahon proudly tweeting out the remark about philanthropy being a brand-builder last year makes it ickier. While WWE isn’t the only media empire that uses charity (in this case, one with highly dubious motivations) as an image-enhancer, their incessant badgering of what good people they are makes October broadcasts unbearable.

18. The Prime Time Players explode…..again

You remember those “Silly Laws That Are Actually Real” humor books you could find in your school library? Apparently one of those edicts states that Titus O’Neil and Darren Young must remain connected at all times, either as partners or as opponents. The two were drawn back together this summer after their second split, and to say it failed to electrify would be an understatement.

17. The Asylum Match, and Mitch the Houseplant

If you’ve read Chris Jericho’s books, you know about the “Curse of Jericho”, which pertains to his debut/return matches. The term could better apply to his current WWE lot, in which he’s asked to deadpan his way through goofy concepts. In this case, a feud with Dean Ambrose that held promise went on to feature Mitch the Houseplant, and an interminable “Asylum” match that was more sleep-inducing than EmergenZ.

16. The aftermath of Roman Reigns’ failed drug test

Reigns isn’t the first performer to violate WWE’s wellness policy, nor will he be the last, but the on-screen damage control was something wild. In most cases, the offending talent would be persona-non-grata for the suspension’s duration, but instead Reigns was prominently mentioned on television, with popular-enough Dean Ambrose defending his buddy by noting we all make mistakes. Naturally, that too failed to sway the ticket-buying jury.

15. The aftermath of Brock Lesnar’s failed drug test

At least Reigns served a sensible punishment. Lesnar flunked a USADA-sanctioned test prior to his UFC 200 fight with Mark Hunt, and would eventually have his unanimous decision victory nullified, in addition to a one-year suspension. On the WWE side, Lesnar, as a part-timer, is apparently exempt from consenting to drug testing, which is a pretty hefty double-standard. Though really, what would Brock’s “punishment” be, sitting home for thirty days? How would he survive?

14. Roman Reigns: still not “The Guy”

The year 2016 saw more attempts to get Reigns over as “The Guy”, only for the crowds to continue resoundingly rejecting him. It’s not Reigns’ fault he’s slotted into feuds with better-regarded opponents (AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens), but the writing continues doing him no favors. When the year started, Reigns was actually better positioned as the incumbent champion, but by the Rumble, the goodwill wore off.

13. PPVs are tooooo looooong

WWE made the decision in 2016 to expand the length of their pay-per-views. Pre-show included, WrestleMania was a soul-crushing six hours in length, while SummerSlam and Survivor Series ran longer than most people would have cared for. Even Money in the Bank ran past 11 PM EST, a concession allowing home viewers to catch the finish of the historic NBA Finals Game 7 during a crappy Rusev/Titus O’Neil match.

12. And there are too many PPVs, too

Remember in 2006 when WWE expanded its PPV calendar to 16 events, which was more bloated than a mob informant floating in the bay? Child’s play, says WWE, who feels that Raw and SmackDown each deserve their own monthly shows to go along with the Big Four events, resulting in stretched out feuds, a litany of unspecial rematches, and Sunday night showcases that feel more like lifeless space occupiers.

11. Rebel vs. Shelly Martinez

Seven years after Jenna Morasca’s fly-swatting strikes of doom, Rebel and Shelly did their damnedest to set new standards for badness in the realm of TNA Knockouts. By now, you’ve probably seen the infamous finish, in which Shelly’s attempt at a suicide dive results in her shambling gut-first into the middle rope and suspending herself like a parachutist in a tree, which was enough to render her unconscious.

10. The Old Day

On Labor Day, WWE pre-emptively chose to punish ten percent of their audience (the ones deserting them a week later for football) by making everyone sit through The Old Day, a look at The New Day in their future (health permitting) octogenarian states. Apparently, this was supposed to make us hate Gallows and Anderson (for their wit, not lack of it). Instead, we came to better understand why The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega prefer to freelance.

9. Brock busts Orton open hardway

“Alright, Brock, listen: blading is considered barbaric, and we have squeamish sponsors that we’re trying to appease. However, we also need a blood stoppage for your match. So here’s the plan: we need you to nick Randy’s eyebrow with your tree stump of an elbow until you draw blood. That’s WAY more sensible than him using a razor to thinly slice his skin, am I right?”

8. Camp WWE

Literally the only reason to spend 20 minutes watching Camp WWE is to hear Vince McMahon recite obscenity-filled non-sequitirs with his usual phlegmy bark. Otherwise, it’s just humorless dick-and-crap jokes with uninteresting stories. It’s a cartoon, and I get that you’re not supposed to take it seriously, but Story Time is a far better marriage of animation and WWE kookiness.

7. Holy Foley

There’s certainly an undeniable irony in Mick Foley, whose gritty work transcended fictional wrestling, taking part in a “reality” show with the sort of hack scripting that would be too dopey for Bazooka Joe wrapper comics. Holy Foley is primarily a vehicle to shine spotlight on Mick’s adult children Noelle and Dewey, and conveniently enough, Foley’s Facebook tirades on WWE’s short-sightedness ceased just in time for the show’s launch.

6. Eddiesploitation, Part II

Even though Sasha Banks isn’t related by blood to the Guerrero family, she openly considers Eddie a hero and role model. So much so that WWE, patron saints of tact, ran hard with it, with Foley actually uttering, “You’re a part of Eddie’s legacy,” to Sasha on an October Raw. Guerrero’s been through enough posthumous storylines for one eternity; can’t we just leave him in peace?

5. McMahon Family Feud, Part 6,274

Remember when WrestleMania 2000 revolved around McMahon family melodrama, and the event was one of the rare misses of an otherwise awesome year for WWE? Somebody must think that more McMahons on TV benefits the company, because here are Shane and Stephanie serving as figureheads of SmackDown and Raw, warring with one another. To put it in perspective, when Shane and Stephanie began feuding a generation ago, ratings were three times higher.

4. Global Force Gold

Any hopes that Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling could become an impact player have long since been flushed. Today, the company seemingly exists only as a punchline due to their involvement in a money-into-gold multi-level marketing scheme wholeheartedly endorsed by Jarrett himself. Say what you will about Dixie Carter, but at least she hasn’t resorted to selling Karatbars to rubes.

3. Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker

Shane’s return on Raw after six-plus years away from the sport was an exciting and genuinely-awesome moment. Then Shane was tied into a WrestleMania match with Undertaker for control of Raw, while Undertaker’s career was on the line. The build-up was bad, with an inexplicable story and the return of Shane’s laughable punches. The match was just as exhaustively tedious, as Shane’s elbow off of Hell in a Cell couldn’t save it.

2. WrestleMania 32

There were numerous injuries to major stars going into the big event, which makes it all the more baffling that six hours elapsed from the first pre-show bout to the end of the main event. Boy, did it drag. Questionable booking ruled the night, as it almost seemed like the plan was to job out everyone likable, leaving fans no choice but to cheer Reigns in the finale. Didn’t take.

1. TNA, period

After over fourteen years of shaky existence, TNA felt closer to the grave than ever in 2016. Between needing to raise fast cash for TV tapings, the power struggle between Dixie Carter, Billy Corgan, and others, and the revelation of a number of unresolved legal issues, among other ugliness, it became much clearer just how messy things were for the disputable number two promotion. Hopefully, the new owners from Anthem can find solid ground in 2017 and beyond.

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